Before dawn, volunteers trudged down slushy paths and muddy trails searching for people sleeping out in the cold.
Volunteers offered granola bars and coffee to the people they found and handed out socks and gloves.
The volunteers are part of street outreach teams that comb the city on a daily basis to speak with people who are homeless but do not come to the shelters.
On Thursday morning, they set out for a point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness in Columbus and Franklin County, led by the Community Shelter Board.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires the point-in-time count to take place during the last 10 days of January, according to Sara Loken, the community relations director for the Community Shelter Board.
The timing allows for a more accurate count, volunteers said, because more people who are homeless will come to shelters in the cold weather than in the summer.
Still, Loken said, that’s not always the case.
“Sometimes someone may have a pet that they’re not willing to part with or sometimes you may find a man and a woman together that don’t want to separate and split up and go to a men’s and a women’s shelter,” Loken said.
Before heading out Thursday, teams stocked up on necessities and took iPads to collect demographic information for HUD, which helps determine the federal resources the county and city receive.
It also helps local agencies and organizations find out who is in need and what programs and services may be helpful to them.
Loken described the volunteers Thursday morning as “a gathering of a lot of passionate people who care about the fact that a safe place to sleep is a basic human need and we need to make sure that everyone has that.”